Replacement of Capron school, jail tops Southampton County’s wish list

Published 9:07 am Friday, February 8, 2013

COURTLAND—The replacement of Capron Elementary School and the jail in Courtland remain the most costly priorities for Southampton County government this year.

A new school would cost more than $10 million and a jail, $5.9 million.

The likelihood of either happening is “zero,” County Administrator Mike Johnson said Thursday.

“The money isn’t there, and I would not anticipate any major capital improvements in the next five years because of current revenue streams,” Johnson said.

The county, which started off the budget year with a $70 million debt, annually presents a wish list for capital improvements. This year’s list also includes expanding and renovating the Walter Cecil Rawls Library in Courtland for $3.1 million, new school buses at a cost of $450,000 and a $500,000 dog pound to alleviate overcrowding.

Johnson hopes to take care of some of the smaller items through the operating budget, like spending $40,000 for two pickups for public works and new buses. Some buses are 22 years old; the state recommends replacement at 12 years.

Capron Elementary has been a high priority for the last seven or eight years, Johnson said.

The school has room for 89 students, but had 176 enrolled, according to the most recent figures from December. The current site is not suitable for a new building because of water and sewer issues and the property is too small.

It’s been estimated it would cost $350,000 to buy another property and $10 million to build a school to serve 350 students.

Sheriff Jack Stutts continues to hope for a new jail.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen right now,” Stutts said.

The 63-year-old jail in Courtland has room for 38 inmates. As of Thursday, 61 were housed there.

Extra bunks have been installed. The jail is not set up to house women, who are sent to out-of-county facilities, which costs more than keeping them in county.

Stutts still believes a good place for a new jail would be the former state facility for inmates assigned to roadwork. When the state shut it down, the county purchased the facility and its 47 acres on Rivers Mill Road near Capron for $10 to house work-release inmates. There were 42 inmates housed there on Thursday.

The county could possibly obtain a state grant that would cover to 25 percent of the cost for a new jail, Stutts said. The amount could be increased to 50 percent if another sheriff’s office or police department joined in on the project.

Assuming a new jail would be built, the current jail could be used for office space and an evidence room for the sheriff’s office, he said.